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Kirkin' o' th' Tartan

  • St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church 82 Kent Street K1P 5N9 (map)

Kirkin’ o’ th’ Tartans is a celebration of Scottish heritage and culture. Kirking, from the Scots word kirk, means church.

Join us for this special service at the historic St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church to celebrate your clan and all tartans. Learn about the history of St. Andrew’s Church and the proud Scots – Thomas McKay, Connell, William Stewart and John Low – who established a church for the Scottish community of Bytown in 1828.

Historically, the story of the origin of Kirkin’ o’ th’ Tartans is a bit varied. The popular legend goes as follows:

On July 25, 1745, the young Prince Charles Edward Stewart, “Bonnie Prince Charlie” returned from exile in France and landed at Lochnanaugh in Scotland where he began to enlist the Highland Clans for an unsuccessful attempt to dethrone George II of England and to restore the Scottish throne to the Royal House of Stewart.

Following Prince Charlie’s defeat, the Act of Proscription — to subdue the vanquished Highlanders — banned the wearing of any sign of the Tartan, forbade any speaking in Gaelic, outlawed Scottish music, dancing, or the playing of the pipes.

During the 36 years following the Disarming Act of 1746 when the Hanoverian English government strictly enforced this ban, during the Sunday service Scottish Highlanders would touch the hidden piece of tartan cloth under their clothes when the minister gave the benediction or kirkin’, thus rededicating themselves to God and their Scottish heritage.

A curious wrinkle in this legend is that many people in Scotland don’t know this so-called “history” about the Kirkin’. It is difficult to find an unbroken line of history tracing the practice back specifically to this origin in the mid-18th century.

A more recent and better-documented version of the story is that this began as a Scottish-American custom.

The Kirkin’ o’ th’ Tartans service was created or “revived” during World War II by Reverend Peter Marshall, perhaps best known for the biographical book and film A Man Called Peter. Marshall was originally from southwest Scotland, and at one time pastor of the New York Avenue Presbyterian Church in Washington, D.C. In 1943 he was the first Chaplain of the U.S. Senate. To encourage Scottish-Americans to sign up to fight on behalf of Great Britain, Peter Marshall recreated the Kirkin’ o’ th’ Tartans ceremony to instill pride among Scottish-Americans in their Scottish homeland. The ceremony was at that time held in Presbyterian churches of Scottish heritage across the US.

Today, the celebration is not limited to Presbyterian churches but is found in Episcopalian, Methodist, Roman Catholic, Orthodox, and other denominations across the world. Now, in present-day celebration, the Highlander patriotism, faithfulness, and strong independence are remembered by the displaying of tartans and the public parade of the clans to the sound of the bagpipe.


Earlier Event: January 26
The Great Canadian Kilt Skate
Later Event: January 30
WEIRD: The Witches of MacBeth